Sleepy Hollow gave me tons of good vibes with the latest episode, “This Red Lady of Caribee.” It was a black woman extravaganza—Abbie kicking butt, Jenny tag-teaming with Joe, and a powerful black villain who was part fashionista woman, part bug. This episode was also written by a black woman, Shernold Edwards (kudos to her). I also received my fair share of bad or annoying vibes, but we’ll get to that when we get to it. Let’s get to the recap, and then some bullet points.
Month: November 2015
Two shows I’ve been looking forward to as we head into the midseason are Superstore and Telenovela, both coming to NBC. Superstore and Telenovela are both new additions to the increased visibility of Latinos, specifically Latina lead characters, on television, which is important in its own right, and also, just as a fan, I want to see what kind of characters America Ferrera and Eva Longoria are playing this time around. Thankfully, we’ll all get to see what we’re in for when both shows preview after The Voice late November and early December.
The recent Fresh off the Boat episode, “Good Morning Orlando,” showed the benefits of having a second season. Once a show gets to their second season, especially a show as culturally aware as Fresh off the Boat is, the show’s writers (and perhaps the stars themselves) can start to address things that got on their nerves during the first season (and probably, throughout their lives). Fresh off the Boat did that by having Louis go on local morning television to promote his restaurant and do funny impressions, only to come back home to a disapproving Jessica who uttered the damning name of “Long Duk Dong.” Yes, she said he Long Duk Donged all Asian Americans because he decided to make two white anchors laugh.
If you think Long Duk Dong is just a harmless character from Sixteen Candles, then you don’t know Long Duk Dong. Long Duk Dong is to Asians as Uncle Tom is to my people, African Americans. Long Duk Dong is the character that shucks and jives to the white audience’s amusement, shaming all of his people who are cognizant of the fact that he is the on Asian character that made it through the cracks to even be on the big screen without ripping off Bruce Lee (because no one can capture the magic and mystery that is the one, true martial artist/philosopher/Cha Cha dance master Bruce Lee).
Just like how many African Americans have been conflicted about supporting certain characters, movies, and TV shows (pick your poison), I’m sure many Asian Americans were conflicted about Long Duk Dong and the actor who played him, Gedde Watanabe, a Japanese-American actor playing a Chinese stereotype, which probably adds insult to injury. (Interestingly enough, Watanabe went on to voice Ling in Mulan, but I don’t know if that makes things better since Ling was also comic relief.) The question is this: Is it right or wrong to support or not support an Asian actor even if he’s making a mockery of himself and the group of people he represents onscreen? I think it’s fair to say that even though many folks have their own answer, the consensus was soundly against favor of Watanabe, and as Jessica reminded Louis, Long Duk Dong has become the marker of what you don’t want to be. You don’t want to be thought of as a sellout.
Fresh off the Boat is in the unique position to address this, because there are many folks out there who might understand why being called an “Uncle Tom” is wrong, but might not even be aware of why Long Duk Dong is problematic. America is very hypersensitive to black issues, in the sense that black Americans were at the forefront of the civil rights movement. But because America equates “diversity” to just “black,” a lot of the issues concerning other minority voices gets shuffled under the rug for no reason. Fresh off the Boat can give another perspective to a conversation that’s constantly happening on shows like black-ish—that having limited or no representation in the media can lead to the one individual that does make big having to represent the entirety of their race. For a week, Louis was in that tough spot of representing an entire group of people without the luxury of just being himself. And after Jessica went on and on about how he should be approachable, but serious, but discuss issues affecting Asian Americans, but still be jovial, but not make too many jokes, but be polite, but not overtly and stereotypically polite, etc., etc., both realized how much of an impossible burden it is to put on just one person.
Fresh off the Boat addressed this not only to add more to the conversation about a lack of representation on television, but to also provide a bit of meta commentary to some of the frustrations that the show had about being the first Asian American television show in about 20 years. Because they were the first, they were getting unnecessary (in my opinion) annoyance from folks who felt the show didn’t represent them and their experience. Well, to that I say: DUH. It’s not supposed to represent everyone’s experiences, because, while there are some shared cultural experiences, not everyone’s upbringing is the same. My upbringing is different from any of my cousins’ upbringings, even though we’re all black. My life isn’t theirs, so if I told my story on the big screen, they don’t have a right to get offended just because something that happened to them isn’t in my story. I hate to invoke The Cosby Show after the horrors of Bill Cosby, but The Cosby Show played that “Perfect Minority Family” game, too. To everyone, including a lot of black people, the Huxtables represented the perfect black family, but some black people were mad that the show didn’t represent them or that the show felt unattainable in real life somehow. The Cosby Show however, was built to portray a perfect life; Fresh off the Boat was never meant to portray perfection; it just happened to be the only show of its kind at the time.
Thankfully, though, we now have Dr. Ken on ABC and, for what it’s worth, Into the Badlands on AMC (even though I’ve started to hear complaints about that show, too). There are beginning to be different interpretations of Asian life on screen (and there would have been more if GLENN WASN’T KILLED ON THE WALKING DEAD! There’s already a problem with killing black guys on this doggone show, and now you’re going to kill the Asian guy, too? I don’t care if he died in the comic book; the show has already taken liberties with canon! I dare to think what could happen to Michonne or Sasha!). Finally, Fresh off the Boat doesn’t have to carry the load of the world on its shoulders. Louis can do his Donald Duck and Rocky impressions and not have to be thought of as a Long Duk Dong. He’s just goofy, lovable Louis, an individual, not the Leader of the Asian Delegation (to reference that Dave Chappelle skit that’s now become part of the fabric of millennial America).
Last thing to note: I liked how this episode slyly played with the fact that people automatically assume that black people have to date black people. As if we just like someone because they’re black. “Black” doesn’t override “good personality” or “has a nice car.” Again, it goes back to being thought of as a representative of a group instead of an individual. Poor Walter, the only black kid in the group, still has to deal with well-meaning microagressions against him from his friends, who think that because he’s black, he has to automatically go with the black girl. Like goes with like, even though they as white kids can think of themselves as individuals. Yet, they still didn’t see themselves dating the black girl because they assumed she’d immediately go with Walter, aka she doesn’t have free will to choose who she’d like to be with because she’s a minority girl. And if they did decide to be together (which we was wasn’t the case at all), it doesn’t mean they chose each other because they’re both the black kids. As Walter said, “I like her, but [her race] is unrelated.” Basically, the lesson is that if you have black friends, don’t assume they just date black people. They can date anyone, just like you can.
What did you think of the episode? Give your opinions below!
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Screencap of Fresh off the Boat.
Remember The Ridiculous Six, that Adam Sandler Netflix comedy that offended countless Native Americans, including the Native actors and hired consultant on set? Well, the trailer is out, and like most Sandler films nowadays, it looks and sounds just like you’d expect. Take a look at it for yourself.
Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq trailer has been breaking the internet, which proves just how much people have been waiting on a star-studded Spike Lee joint to come out. This might sound like I’m damning the other films simply because they’re smaller. I’m not doing that, since there’s always something thought-provoking about most Spike Lee films. But you have to admit that it’s been a while since Spike Lee has made a feature film that was this chock full of stars–Teyonah Parris, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Nick Cannon, La La Anthony, Jennifer Hudson, Dave Chappelle, and plenty more recognizable faces. Just take a look at the trailer right here:
This past August, I wrote a rebuttal to The Hollywood Reporter‘s article written around the time of Omar Sharif’s death, titled, “Will Hollywood Ever Produce Another Arab Star Like Omar Sharif?”, and in my article, I wrote that there are plenty of Middle Eastern actors who could be Hollywood’s next Sharif-esque heartthrob, if Hollywood gave them a chance. I wrote about several actors out there dominating the TV space, including Mr. Robot star Rami Malek. To quote myself:
Rami Malek, who is Egyptian (and might be one of the only, if not the only, major Hollywood actor of Egyptian heritage to actually play a pharaoh—the Night at the Museum analog for Tutankhamun, Ahkmenrah ), plays Elliot in Mr. Robot. Elliot’s haunted by his past and wants to make a difference in the world, even if that difference includes criminal activity, and nowhere does the show make mention of his ethnicity, or the ethnic backgrounds of anyone on the show. On Mr. Robot, ethnic backgrounds thankfully come second to the drama of the show, so no one is really pigeon-holed into acting a certain way. But it’s worth mentioning that Malek is Middle Eastern, and one of the few brown actors in Hollywood who isn’t playing a terrorist.
At the end of the article, I wrote this:
The common denominator with everyone mentioned in this article is that Hollywood’s system is working against them. To quote Sharif himself, he said it was “not logical” for an Arab actor to become a star in Hollywood. “I was the only one that made it; there will not be another.” However, Hollywood could decide to prove Sharif wrong and give more than just one brown actor a chance to achieve Sharif’s level of success, a success that shouldn’t have anything to do with your skin tone or where you come from, but on the merit of your acting talent. If Hollywood was fair and let more brown actors make it, I think Sharif would be glad to see from his perch in the afterlife that he’d be proven wrong.
It seems like Hollywood is about to prove Sharif wrong and everyone who doubted Hollywood (including me), thinking it’ll fall into its old habits. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Malek has been cast in his first leading role in a film, that film being indie mystery-creepfest Buster’s Mal Heart. Malek will play “an eccentric mountain man” who is running from police and hides out in vacation homes. He keeps having weird dreams and comes to realize that he’s one man inhabiting two bodies (and, two different realities, since the other man is lost at sea). In anime terms, think how the Nameless Namek split into Kami and King Piccolo and fused back into one being much, much later. The question that needs solving in Buster’s Mal Heart, aside from how the man split from himself, is how he can fuse back together (if he even wants to do that).
The story is a mind-bender, for sure, and it’s certainly in Malek’s wheelhouse, because Mr. Robot is, oftentimes, a mind-bending experience. Malek has tons of the alt-mysterious cred (to himself and from his role on Mr. Robot) to make this movie sound not only cool, but plausible as a possible blockbuster. But what makes this news really cool is that Malek has now become one of the few actors of Middle Eastern descent out there that are starring in films that don’t have anything to do with terrorism or stereotypes.
I’m so glad that Hollywood’s given Malek a chance. It also goes to show that maybe, just maybe, the market is opening up to accepting actors of Middle Eastern descent, since Malek’s entryway into the leading role standard wasn’t his first big film role as Akhmenrah, but through his Mr. Robot TV role. (Albeit, it was also a TV show that played at SXSW and won an award.) Basically, TV could be another avenue many other Middle Eastern actors could find the success they were denied by Hollywood initially and make Hollywood give them their deserved due.
When I spoke to Tyrant star Cameron Gharaee for the Entertainment Weekly Community, we started talking about how important television could be to the Middle Eastern actor looking to make it. To quote him:
A lot of Americans don’t know about the Middle East, yet they have strong political views on things—but these are people too, and they have struggles. It makes it an even playing field for everyone, and it’s going to open a lot of doors, hopefully. Especially with the show doing well and people enjoying it, it can open the door for more shows. I think that’s what this is; it’s a bridge to testing the waters and saying, “Look, these shows are entertaining, these people do have an interesting culture.” It’s rich and colorful, and they have really amazing personas. The personalities of the culture are very fascinating … it’s a beautiful culture. I think this is a bridge to open that door for more stories to be told—and that’s all you can really hope for.
Can Hollywood keep up the precedent they’ve now set with Malek? Lets hope so, because there are many other stars out there that need that door kicked down.
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MR. ROBOT — “m1rr0r1ng.qt” Episode 109 — Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson — (Photo by: Christopher Saunders/USA Network)
It’s no shock to anyone when I say that How to Get Away with Murder is, albeit a well written show, is a big “OMG” show, as in it’s all about the shock and awe and live-tweeting aspects of today’s primetime soap opera. However, there are those times when the show injects some real-world importance. The first moment was when Annalise took off her wig, revealing her tucked-away natural hair underneath, and many other moments feature same-sex sex scenes. Last week’s episode, “Two Birds, One Millstone,” gave us our first big important moment of the season, I think. We got to see a transgender woman character in an impressive storyline. To top it off, the character was actually played by transgender actress Alexandra Billings, the first openly trans woman to play a transgender character on TV.